Japan's parliamentary opposition on Dec. 2 called for the censure of Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa for a bungled response to a gaffe by a senior ministry official over plans to relocate a U.S. Marines airbase in Okinawa, putting a new hurdle in the government's reform plans.
The censure motion comes as Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's three-month-old government seeks broad support to double the sales tax to 10 percent and win local backing to relocate the airbase to a less populated area of the island.
The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito party agreed to submit a non-binding but embarrassing censure motion against Ichikawa to the opposition-controlled upper house for the official's comment and the minister's lack of detailed knowledge on an Okinawa rape case involving U.S. servicemen, media said.
Okinawa Defense Bureau chief Satoshi Tanaka, when asked why the ministry has not set a date for submitting an environmental assessment report on the base relocation, told reporters on Monday: "Would you give a warning when you are about to rape someone?", according to media reports.
Tanaka was dismissed on Tuesday following newspaper reports of his comment.
"What has been reported is extremely inappropriate. I would like to offer my sincere apology for hurting the feelings of people in Okinawa," Noda told a news conference on Thursday.
Ichikawa plans to visit Okinawa on Friday afternoon to apologize in person to Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima over Tanaka's comment which particularly sparked anger in Okinawa, where anti-U.S. base movements gained momentum after a rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995.
He remains at risk of losing his portfolio, analysts said.
"It looks like (Ichikawa) is set to lose his position, especially because this is over not just one incident but over a combination of incidents," said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University.
Noda has already suffered one major cabinet setback when trade minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned after just eight days in office over comments seen as insensitive about radiation from the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant.
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